A leader’s vision of change, from a political or business vantage point, can inspire and transform the way a nation or a company perceives its future. Research shows it can also bolster corporate performance and employee motivation. However, a recent study showed that women in leadership roles often scored lower than men in only one area, but an important one, namely, “envisioning”: the ability to see new opportunities and chart new strategies for their business that reflect these changes. This edition of LQ focuses primarily on the value of envisioning in business and the strengths that women in the C-Suite afford in this area. The menu of questions for this executive interview series has been prepared by LQ’s Board and friends of LQ. LQ’s Women in Supply Management Panel is comprised of LQ’s Board members and thought leaders from the U.S. and Canada: Pamela Benkert,
General Manager, WW Operations
and VP, Consumer Digital Group, Kodak
Elsie Blauwhoff,
Corporate Procurement, Apotex Inc.
Bruce Danielson,
Executive Communications Manager, UPS
Melissa Gracey,
President, DTA Services
Diane Mollenkopf, PhD,
Associate Professor, University of Tennessee
Tom Nightingale,
VP and CMO, Con-way Inc.
Susan Oaks,
Vice-President, A.T. Kearney
Susan Promane,
Director, Supply Chain, Whirlpool Canada
Kate Vitasek,
Founder, Supply Chain Visions
Ellen Voie,
President, Women in Trucking Inc.

ELSIE BLAUWHOFF, Corporate Procurement, Apotex

LQ: What unique communications system can you bring to the field of logistics? (Pamela Benkert)

Elsie Blauwhoff: Maybe it’s not unique, but I have a network of business colleagues with whom I’ve stayed in touch over the years. They provide an invaluable service to me in the areas of benchmarking data, providing advice, and even job search assistance when needed. The Internet is great, but there’s nothing like an informed exchange between professionals to give you the sense that you’re on the right track. LQ: Have you taken any big risks in your career, such as going for a difficult assignment? (Bruce Danielson) Elsie Blauwhoff: Risk is an integral part of moving forward. I don’t believe you can gain anything if you don’t risk anything. So on at least two occasions over my long career, I have volunteered to leave a position that I had outgrown— with no new position waiting for me. It has worked out well, but even if it hadn’t, I felt that staying in a stale situation was not an option.

LQ: Does it matter that women don’t envision as well as men? (Diane A. Mollenkopf, PhD)

Elsie Blauwhoff: The idea that men envision better than women made me smile. After all, who envisioned the global economic mess that we’re in? Not enough people of either gender, obviously. The people who succeed are the ones who balance the strategic with the operational. Just because you can picture it doesn’t mean it will work.

DIANE A. MOLLENKOPF, PhD, Director, PhD Program in Logistics, University of Tennessee

LQ: When President Obama was asked if some of his cabinet choices conflicted with the message of his campaign, he said, “Understand where the vision for change comes from: first and foremost, it comes from me. That’s my job, to provide a vision in terms of where we are going, and to make sure then that my team is implementing [that vision].” Do you agree with his statement? Is leadership more about providing the vision than implementing it? (Kate Vitasek)

Diane A. Mollenkopf, PhD: In my mind, leadership is absolutely about providing the vision. The leader is responsible for communicating the vision throughout the organization, empowering and enabling the team to implement the vision, monitoring progress towards achievement of the vision, and correcting course as necessary. Leaders set the tone and expectations so their team can achieve the results.

LQ: What specific actions have you employed to ensure that the organization’s vision is embraced throughout the employee base? (Susan Oaks)

Diane A. Mollenkopf, PhD: In order for the employee base to embrace the vision, I try to put in place several enablers. First, communication of the vision is critical. This is not a one-time announcement, but an ongoing process to keep the vision constantly in the front of mind of all employees. Second, I solicit input and feedback from the employees, and incorporate their ideas into how to implement the vision. Finally, I provide regular feedback on the progress being made. Initial success often spurs more success, and initial challenges provide an opportunity for rethinking and revising the implementation plan. Regardless, my emphasis is on team achievement of the vision.

SUSAN OAKS, Vice-President, A.T. Kearney

LQ: How do you balance the details with the big picture in your decision making? Have you ever suffered from analysis paralysis? (Elsie Blauwhoff)

Sue Oaks: I have indeed suffered from analysis paralysis, which is fairly common to individuals who are analytic by nature. I have learned to avoid this pitfall by keeping in mind that continuing to analyze a situation is, in itself a decision— albeit one which accomplishes nothing. In most cases, once 80% of the information is available and analyzed, additional tweaking of numbers reduces the risk of making the wrong decision by a disproportionately small amount. Therefore, by keeping the end goal in mind, a reasonable amount of analysis is the prudent course of action—with the emphasis on action.

LQ: What barriers have you been able to break through in your career? (Bruce Danielson)

Sue Oaks: The most significant barriers have been those erected through the misconceptions that others have, based on their own biases. For the most part, I have been fortunate throughout my career to have had opportunities to demonstrate my capabilities and to be associated with other professionals who judged me on the basis of ability and performance—as a logistics professional and as a consultant.

LQ: Is your strategic direction consistent with the organization’s core capabilities? If not, what actions are you taking to get these aligned? (Susan L. Oaks)

Sue Oaks: It is critical to have a strategic harmony between what an organization can do well and what it wishes to do. Alignment is only possible through an objective and thorough examination of capabilities and the will to fill the gaps. It is easier to adjust the time it will take to accomplish the vision than to give it up!

LQ: Does it matter that women don’t envision as well as men? (Diane A. Mollenkopf, PhD)

Sue Oaks: No—I think it is irrelevant that this study found that, in general, women don’t envision as well as men. I believe that the most important criterion is the achievement of a vision—which takes dedicated execution as well as envisioning. An inspirational leader (of either gender) will develop a strategic vision [by] leveraging whatever means necessary—collaboration with others, “borrowing” concepts from thought leaders, etc. and then positioning their organization to achieve it.

Director, Supply Chain, Whirlpool Canada

LQ: You have chosen logistics as a profession. Do you see yourself as a pioneer in the industry? (Melissa Gracey)

Susan Promane: I am not sure that I see myself as a “pioneer” in the logistics profession—but I do aspire to be a role model, especially for the Supply Chain team here at Whirlpool Canada. For those who aspire to be in a leadership role in the future, it is important they take on various roles within supply chain to ensure a broad understanding of all aspects. This may not always mean a promotion, but could be a lateral move, which can often be difficult for someone early in their career to accept. I have been fortunate to have had several different supply chain roles in my career— on the customer side, on the transport side and on the 3PL side. This varied experience has given me a solid foundation in the supply chain function from which I have built my leadership skills. This foundation gives me credibility as a senior leader of a team with diverse supply chain skills and experiences. It has also allowed me to build a reputation with my peers across the business as a supply chain professional with experience in a number of areas. Therefore, the business has confidence that the Supply Chain team has the expertise to perform regardless of the situation.

Not only are the role, and the results attained in each role, important but equally important is the leadership demonstrated. This is really the way in which results are achieved—leadership attributes such as the character and values of the individual and the thought leadership demonstrated, as well as leadership practices such as communication and customer focus.

I strive to ensure I am demonstrating leadership—in my day-to-day interactions, during monthly and quarterly staff meetings, as well as my interactions with my peers. I am very conscious that my words and actions are watched closely by my team. When it comes to my leadership, I want to ensure that there isn’t a gap between what I say and what I do. My goal is to set the example I want others to live by.

LQ: What would you do to inspire other women to join the logistics industry? (Melissa Gracey)

Susan Promane: Key to attracting top talent into the field is ensuring that the scope of the industry and the opportuni-ties within it are understood. Logistics is far broader than the traditional roles in the physical distribution, i.e., warehousing and transportation. It is also considered a strategic component of many organizations. The scope can include everything from order to delivery, and sometimes to cash. This offers not only tremendous scope of opportunity, but also an opportunity to demonstrate a variety of skills that are very transferable into other areas of business: analytical, problem solving, and project management, to name a few.

Many organizations are looking to strengthen the diversity of their leadership roles specifically in areas that are traditionally male-dominated. The opportunity for women to go into this field is very attractive to women who seek challenge and want to be part of driving change and deeprooted business perceptions.

Supply chain is a field that is being more widely recognized by many companies as a strategic part of the business. Someone who goes into logistics can anticipate a very exciting career with exposure to a wide variety of industries and organizations.

KATE VITASEK, Founder, Supply Chain Visions

LQ: When you make decisions that will have a big impact on the future, do you generally have a fallback or Plan B in mind? (Elsie Blauwhoff)

Kate Vitasek: I like to think of the future (my vision) as a place I am going, kind of as if I were starting on earth and going to the moon. In the 1960s John F. Kennedy challenged the United States to put a man on the moon—but he did not know exactly how to get there and neither did any of the folks at NASA. In business—like in life—there are always multiple ways to get to where you are going, and when you start down the path you find things along the way that can alter the course you take. For this reason I always try to stop, to look, and to leverage what I’ve learned along the way. My visions are really concepts I am trying to achieve that I modify as I go. As I start down the path with Plan A, my knowledge, and hence my view of the future, can change as new information comes to light. As such, I guess you could call anything other than the first path (Plan A) a “fallback” or Plan B. It is usually the Plan B—and C and D—that collectively come together to help my visions move from concept to reality. I have learned in my career to stop and smell the roses, but to never just stop unless your learnings along the way tell you that you have a bad concept.

LQ: What are the three most important traits of a visionary? (Kate Vitasek)

Kate Vitasek: Not being afraid to have a vision bigger than what you know how to do. This is a real problem with many business people today. If they can’t see how to make it happen, they don’t think it can be possible. If you look at all great leaders, most had a vision and did not know just how they were going to get there such as Kennedy in putting a man on the moon.

Having a strong conviction in your vision. All you really need is the will to do something, not the how. I find myself daydreaming about my “big ideas” and then trying to reverse-engineer different solutions for how to get there. It took Thomas Edison 10,000 tries to get the light bulb right, but he had the will to do it and to not stop trying. Business people today need to learn to not give up so quickly when things get hard.

Being able to clearly articulate your vision—even if you don’t know how to get there. (Jack Welch said: be #1 or #2 or we will get out of that business). This means constantly and consistently communicating that vision, so others can get on board and help you achieve your vision. No matter what you achieve in life, others always help you. If they can’t understand your vision and you are not motivating them along the way, you will more than likely not be able to turn your vision into reality.   

ELLEN VOIE,CAE, President and CEO, Women in Trucking,Inc.

LQ: What barriers have you been able to break through in your career? (Bruce Danielson)

Ellen Voie: As a product of the ’70s, I was exposed to Title IX and equal opportunity in education. My first accomplishment was to drop home economics and cooking and cleaning— oh my!—and take shop class. I not only loved woodworking and drafting, I was exceptional at stick-feed welding. I was hired by a steel fabricating plant in the drafting department, which led to a position in the traffic department. I was 20 years old, and responsible for all inbound freight (steel) and outbound products (material handling equipment). This was in the late seventies, when deregulation was taking place. I found a role in a male-dominated industry, and succeeded despite my gender. This gave me the credibility I needed to move forward. I can still handle a welder, drive an 18-wheeler, or calculate shipping costs for truckload carriers.

LQ: What would you do to inspire other woman to join the logistics industry? (Melissa Gracey)

Ellen Voie: Women In Trucking was established to encourage the employment of women in the trucking industry, not just in the area of logistics, but in all aspects of transportation. Our goal is to let women know that this industry welcomes them. We don’t seem to reach out to women enough, to let them know that they are capable and wanted. Our organization not only helps remove obstacles that might preclude women from considering a career in trucking, but we are celebrating success! We want to let others know that women can and do succeed in the area of trucking and logistics. The equipment has changed, the work environment has changed, and carriers are more interested in accommodating drivers (male and female). This is a much more female-friendly industry than they see in the media!

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